Hawai’i Gov. Josh Green on Monday (Jan. 22) used his annual State of the State address to tackle a variety of tourism-related topics, many of which have been in discussion for some time now.
According to reports, Gov. Green reviewed the latest in Maui’s recovery from last summer’s deadly wildfires, which raged through the historic coastal town of Lahaina on Aug. 8, killing 100 people and destroying thousands of homes and buildings.
PAX travelled to Maui – specifically, to the communities near Lahaina, which was reduced to ash and rubble by the fires – last fall to get an on-the-ground look at the region’s tourism reboot.
The phased reopening of West Maui’s accommodations began on Oct. 8, and at the time, tourism’s reopening was a slow and steady process (and subject to some controversy).
The most urgent need on Maui, now, is stable long-term housing for some 5,000 residents who are staying in hotel rooms because they haven’t been able to find affordable places to rent on the island, the Associated Press reports.
Survivors of the fires aren’t being removed from hotels to make way for tourists, as Daniel Nāhoʻopiʻi, Hawai’i tourism’s interim CEO, told PAX during our visit to the destination.
Two resorts in the area – Royal Lahaina and Kaanapali Beach – already extended their commitment to housing displaced residents (and relief workers), Nāhoʻopiʻi said.
Hotels are getting compensated either way, as funds from the government and the Red Cross are supporting this housing initiative, Nāhoʻopiʻi explained.
“Tax amnesty” for vacation rentals
Green on Monday said that the goal is to move displaced residents into long-term housing by March 1 by encouraging owners of vacation rentals to make their units available.
He told reporters authorities have about two-thirds of the needed housing units ready so far.
For the longer-term, Green proposed a two-year “tax amnesty” to encourage owners of vacation rentals around the state to sell to owner-occupants or long-term rental landlords, AP reports.
The Governor reportedly told reporters later that he was going to put “a lot of pressure” on short-term rentals because he didn’t believe they were appropriate.
“I don’t want to be rude, but I do want people to realize that that market should be for our local families,” Green was quoted as saying.
Possible climate impact fee
The idea of imposing a fee on travellers to help pay for environment-related projects and upkeep was also discussed.
A bill that called for charging Hawai’i tourists a $50 fee died in last year’s legislative session (although, local reports suggest that the Hawaii State Legislature is taking another look at implementing the charge, which aims to offset visitor impacts).
Governor Green is also now suggesting charging each family visiting Hawaii a $25 “climate impact fee” for stays at hotels or short-term rentals.
He said this would raise $68 million a year for the state.